The President is forced to make enemies before he becomes one himself

By Justin Kirkland
October 06, 2016 at 04:56 AM EDT
ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg

Designated Survivor

S1 E3
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When someone comes along and kills off the entire U.S. government, it’s important to find someone to root for, you know? That’s what the last few minutes of Designated Survivor gave us — someone to root for. After days of searching, Congressman MacLeish is pulled from the rubble. Granted, he’s not even in the running to assume office, but as Emily puts it, he’s definitely a silver lining.

President Kirkman gathers his staff together to review everything that needs to be done immediately (which is, you know, everything because the government is in shambles), but in the midst of covering the punch list, the power goes out and immediately everyone assumes it’s another attack. Computer systems go down and the CIA confirms it — the White House has been hacked. Sounds like Hannah’s assessment that the attacks aren’t over might just be correct. Deducing that America might have enough on its mind right now, the staff decides to keep the attack under wraps. Next steps? Well, according to Aaron, it’s choosing a Chief of Staff. OH AARON.

Back at the Capitol search headquarters, Hannah and Jason go back and forth on potential survivors — in a sea of faces, only MacLeish has managed to be found alive. Hannah thinks they need to talk to the congressman, but Jason is not having it because where she sees a witness, he sees… well… a congressman who just survived a terrorist attack.

In the White House, Aaron comments on Emily being late because if Aaron knows how to do anything well, it’s mansplain to Emily how to get to work on time. She admits that she was late because her boyfriend was proposing, which is when Aaron goes into how these things tend to happen after tragedy — knee jerk decisions like marriage, divorce, getting bangs, etc. Emily knows he’d rather she go for it because it would distract her. They sit down with Congresswoman Hookstraten to go over Cabinet appointments, but she’s more interested in this computer hack she’s picked up on. They’re pulled out quickly though and pulled to the Oval.

Hannah, meanwhile, goes to visit Congressman MacLeish, who doesn’t have much perspective other than he went from watching the president speak to seeing darkness. He’s plagued with survivor’s guilt and just wants resolution. He’s not the only one. The former President’s son, Tyler, has been brought in to speak with Seth and President Kirkman before his father’s funeral, and you can tell he’s still very clearly shell-shocked by everything that’s happened. But if anyone is adjusting decently well to the current situation, it’s Penny, who is helping Alex unpack and get settled into the White House the best they can. The fun ends though when Penny finds Leo’s stash and wad of cash because if anything is more annoying than being thrust into the role of First Lady after a terrorist attack, it’s finding out the First Son is a drug dealer. Alex confronts Leo, who admits to the ecstasy (these kids, am I right), and she insists that the conversation is not over.

NEXT: A President in need is a target indeed

In the midst of it all, President Kirkman has an interview because the media never stops. Reporter Elizabeth Vargas takes no prisoners in bringing up the riot at the Capitol and that nonsense in Michigan and the overarching theme that President Kirkman isn’t qualified based on the fact that he was fired the morning of the attack. Naturally, Aaron encourages President Kirkman to divert while Emily pushes for the truth. President Kirkman opts for something in between, mentioning the ambassadorship offered to him, but not explicitly saying that he was fired.

While reviewing the footage, Hannah realizes that the footage of the State of the Union cuts out 34 seconds before the bomb. Upon a closer look, she orders that she wants the contents of a woman’s phone who was taking pictures as the attack happened. And in the midst of illegally searching out truth in the face of justice, President Kirkman and his family are attending the former president’s funeral. Tyler caught wind of the interview between the president and Elizabeth and insists that the President not give the eulogy because it’s as if the eulogy is a PR move. Instead, Tyler throws the eulogy to Congresswoman Hookstraten, who practically shows up to that funeral with a eulogy, intimate pictures, a casserole, and an insatiable desire to run the country.

The resentment Tyler has for President Kirkman is ironic though, especially as First Lady Alex and Leo bump heads over Leo’s MDMA business venture. It appears that Tyler and the former president had a falling out a couple years back and they hadn’t spoken in a while. Seth says that maybe it’s easier to lie to the world than to yourself, which seems pretty opposite of President Kirkman’s situation. It’s all interrupted when Majid Massar’s video is leaked from the White House, and after such an eloquent speech, it would seem that all fingers point to the congresswoman most seemingly ambitious for the presidency. She insists that she’s behind Kirkman though, even if she’s counting down the days until the primary, and you know what, it’s hard not to believe her.

Elsewhere, Jason brings Hannah in to talk to her about the list of confirmed dead. It appears that one of the names is the same man that Hannah has been staring at since the attack happened. It’s the first time since the attack that you see Hannah really stop to slow down and take it all in. She cries in her car, but then she gets a call, letting her know that there is something to see in that State of the Union footage.

Back in the White House, Kirkman immediately confronts Aaron on leaking the Massar video, and he admits, but also says that he believes it’s best for Kirkman’s presidency and offers his letter of resignation if Kirkman wants it. Instead, Kirkman shifts gears and brings Tyler back in to tell him a story about how the president took an hour out of a Cabinet meeting to talk about Tyler’s recital. In the midst of the disaster that is the current government, President Kirkman goes into every detail to let Tyler know how much his dad cared. Afterward, he brings Emily in to let her know that he’s decided to name Aaron his Chief of Staff because he needs someone political, while he needs Emily to just be herself. Instead, she becomes special adviser, which makes sense but you can’t help but feel frustrated. Emily congratulates Aaron, who then congratulates Emily on her fiancé, and she then lets him know that she declined it. She ends with, “Don’t get comfortable. Chefs of staffs get replaced all the time.”

The real problem though is when Hannah reviews the footage of the State of the Union, which reveals that Congressman MacLeish wasn’t actually present when the bomb went off. He was gone. Meanwhile, President Kirkman places a call to Aaron, calling him out for the release of the video. He demands that they find the terrorist behind the attack, but as Aaron hangs up the call, he’s met by a woman who hands him a file on the president. He asks if there’s anything good, and she says, “Depends what side you’re on.” What do you think? Does Aaron have the president’s best interest at heart or is he out to ruin him? And how much do you wish Emily was the Chief of Staff? Hit the comments and we’ll see you next week when President Kirkman continues on his mission to rebuild America.

Episode grade: B

Episode Recaps

Designated Survivor

Kiefer Sutherland returns to TV in this ABC political drama. The 2016 new fall show follows his rise to president when all other cabinet members tragically die. Natascha McElhone, Italia Ricci, Adan Canto, Kal Penn, and Maggie Q also star.
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